If you saw my mom standing in line at the pharmacy, you wouldn’t take a second look. She is a 70-year-old woman with a scar on the back of her neck from one of her surgeries. If you look closer, she also has a scar on her knee and a scar on her shoulder from other surgeries. Unless she’s wearing a bikini, you wouldn’t see the scars on her stomach from the two bariatric surgeries she has had. She looks like a normal senior woman. But she is an addict. She is addicted to prescription pain medication that her GP and her psychiatrist have been prescribing her.
Addiction runs strong in my family. I struggled with it in my late teens, but my struggles were with cocaine, crystal meth, acid…” hard drugs”. Not a bottle of escapism that you can pick up at your local Walgreens, prescribed by your doctor or psychiatrist.
My mom’s addiction is fueled by professionals who have agreed that she needs these medications and they approve them for her. Over and over again. They don’t look deeper at the person who is requesting it. They don’t seem to suggest alternatives. They just keep refilling the prescriptions. And my mom keeps taking them.
With a pad and a pen, these professionals are writing prescriptions that are ruining families across the country. Including mine.
The problem is, they don’t hear my mom on the phone, slurring her words and then becoming completely incoherent to the point where you hang up because you can’t understand what she is saying anymore. And even if you could, it wouldn’t make any sense.
They don’t see her falling and getting rug burns on her knees and a cut above her eye that, when questioned, she can’t remember how it got there.
They don’t see the stress it puts on my 80-year-old father who is watching his wife turn into someone who badgers him into opening the $300 locked pill dispenser with a butter knife to get to her pills, insisting that the dispenser wasn’t filled correctly.
My dad has a serious heart condition. He has fought death and won more than once. They don’t hear him on the phone wheezing, trying to explain to me that mom went to the hospital again because she fell (again) and couldn’t get back up. He told me she tried to convince him to wait until 8:00 AM to call 911, I can only imagine because she has a tiny bit of dignity left and didn’t want the neighbors to see an ambulance come to their house…AGAIN…at 4:00 in the morning.
My mom is an addict.
She is a master manipulator who can con the best of the best. I am embarrassed and ashamed of the amount of time it took me, an addict myself, to realize that my mom is not just clumsy. She is falling because she is stoned out of her mind. She has her doctors convinced she needs these pills that come in pretty little colors with names I cannot pronounce in order to function. If she has trouble refilling some of the stronger opioids, then she will have another surgery. I have lost track of how many surgeries she has had in the last 10 years. All of us have. It’s been so many.
The way things are now, my mom will most likely outlive my dad. My dad will probably pass from a heart attack and my mom will continue her life in a nursing home because my dad has said more than once that she is not capable of living on her own.
This is not how I had pictured my parent’s “golden years”. My dad worked until he was 72 to build up money to keep them financially secure. So they could travel. And visit their grandchildren. And go to all of the Smithsonian museums on the east coast. I am sure that this is not how my dad had pictured their retirement, either. He cannot travel with her. When they have gone on vacations, she sleeps most of the time. She does not do well flying, and neither of them is safe driving at night.
This type of addiction is, in my opinion, so much more difficult to identify and treat than the drug addictions of 25 years ago.
My mother is not approaching the sketchy looking guy on the corner asking if he has a dime bag of cocaine. She is a frail looking senior citizen who says she is in chronic pain and knows how to work the system. I understand there are people who truly cannot function and live any sort of normal life without some type of strong pain medicine. My heart goes out to them, I cannot imagine how exhausting and frustrating it would be to truly need these pills and to be completely incapacitated without them. This is not my mother.
My wish is for doctors to be more aware of the signs of opioid addiction and be given tools and training to insist on alternative methods of pain control if they feel they are dealing with an addict. I was in shock when I saw how easy it was for my mother to have consecutive prescriptions for very strong and very addictive pain pills. It made me wonder if her doctors really have her best interest at heart.
We, as her family, can only do so much. We have removed the strong opioids from her house. But unless her doctors acknowledge her situation themselves and take steps to cut off her supply, it’s all in vain.
A new prescription is only a phone call away.
My sincere thanks to the author who was brave enough to share her experience in hopes that this post will make a difference in the world of opioid addiction. Please share. We need to get the word out to stop this addiction that tears apart families, ruins lives, and kills.